Adesanya finds inspiration in Africa
Israel Adesanya wants to ‘‘take the gold back to Africa’’ but that doesn’t mean he is diminishing his allegiance to New Zealand.
The Nigerian-born UFC star, who took up mixed martial arts (MMA) after moving to New Zealand when he was 13, often has his allegiances questioned but maintains he is just as patriotic about both countries.
Adesanya, aka ‘The Last Stylebender’, has and will continue to go to work in famous fight cities all over the globe but there are two venues he is pushing the UFC to get to in the near future.
Before he takes the gold – in the form of a UFC title belt – back to Africa, Adesanya, who is undefeated in MMA with a 16-0 record and 5-0 in the UFC, first needs to beat Kelvin Gastelum (15-3) to lift the interim middleweight belt at UFC 236 in Atlanta, Georgia, tomorrow.
And secondly, if he does win his first UFC belt at the weekend, the 29-year-old will likely face Kiwi-born Australian Robert Whittaker – the UFC middleweight champion – in a unification fight.
That fight is tipped to take place in Australia, even Adesanya concedes that.
In an ideal world, Adesanya wants to take both belts to Africa and on the same card as Nigeria’s first UFC champion Kamaru Usman.
‘‘Throughout history, they just keep taking and taking and taking from Africa so it’s time me and Kamaru to take gold back to Africa,’’ Adesanya said.
If Adesanya wins his next two fights, it would mean the only two African champions in UFC history fighting on the same night.
Usman, who won the UFC welterweight title in Las Vegas last month when he dethroned American Tyron Woodley, moved to the United States when he was seven.
‘‘Imagine that, two young Nigerian boys who uprooted from Africa to look for a better way of life and then to go back to show the success we’ve had, I think that would be massive and inspire a lot of people,’’ Adesanya said.
‘‘Going through adversity in another land and then going back to show the fruits of our labour . . . I think it would be powerful.’’
Like Adesanya, Usman is also unbeaten in the UFC and there are many other African fighters coming up through the UFC ranks.
Adesanya wants to show young children in Africa that they don’t have to play football or basketball to make something of themselves. He wants to inspire them to be good at whatever path they choose in life.
But for all the talk about his birth country, Adesanya, who trains out of City Kickboxing in Auckland, is equally as passionate about New Zealand.
‘‘But 100 per cent I’ll be back fighting there soon,’’ Adesanya said.
‘‘I’m still going to lobby for this title fight [against Whittaker] possibly to be in New Zealand but I know they’ll want to push it in Australia.
‘‘If not, my first title defence should be in Auckland,’’ he said.
The UFC has publicly stated that a return to Auckland – where it has hosted two shows since 2014 – is on its radar but the timeframe remains unknown.
With Adesanya’s City Kickboxing teammates Dan Hooker, Kai Kara-France and Shane Young all established in the UFC, a card that would capture worldwide attention is possible despite New Zealand being one of the UFC’s smallest commercial markets.
The Adesanya v Gastelum title fight is the first of two interim title fights on the Atlanta card with the main event being for the lightweight title between UFC featherweight champion Max Holloway (20-3) and No 3-ranked lightweight Dustin Poirier (24-5).
The winner is likely to get a shot at UFC lightweight champion and Conor McGregor conqueror Khabib Nurmagomedov.
‘‘Going through adversity in another land and then going back to show the fruits of our labour . . . I think it would be powerful.’’ Israel Adesanya
Rising Kiwi star Israel Adesanya will fight for a UFC belt in just his sixth fight in Atlanta, Georgia, tomorrow.